Horses to Watch: Follow rising 3-year-olds, older turf sprinter

Horses to Watch: Follow rising 3-year-olds, older turf sprinter
Photo: Susie Raisher

In this biweekly series, racing analyst J. Keeler Johnson shares promising horses from his handicapping watch list, reviewing runners who have recently caught his eye and previewing horses scheduled to run back in the near future.

Worth another try

Gold Magic

Flashy Gulfstream maiden winner Gold Magic ran a bit strangely when making his second start in a $75,000 allowance optional claimer on Thursday at Gulfstream. Favored at 8-5 to win the seven-furlong dash, Gold Magic pressed the pace half a mile, dropped back while racing inside around the turn, and then battled back after shifting outside to finish fourth by 3 3/4 lengths. It’s possible he was uncomfortable running inside of rivals.

Gold Magic is an Ontario-bred 3-year-old trained by Kevin Attard, so the King’s Plate at Woodbine might be his ultimate goal for the season. With that possibility in mind, I won’t judge Gold Magic’s better-than-it-looked allowance defeat too harshly; instead, I’ll take a long-term approach and see if Gold Magic pops up at Woodbine this spring or summer.

Upcoming entries

Big Invasion

Big Invasion put together a strong campaign sprinting on turf as a 3-year-old last year, winning six of his eight starts while placing in his two defeats. Along the way, he won the Quick Call (G3) and four other stakes, including the Texas Glitter at Gulfstream Park.

Big Invasion went to the sidelines following a troubled third-place finish in the Franklin-Simpson (G2) at Kentucky Downs, and he’s only posted four timed workouts in advance of Saturday’s 11th race at Gulfstream Park, the Silks Run (post time 5:35 p.m. EDT). It’s possible he’ll be rusty off the layoff, but then again, he’s only racing five furlongs. Whether he wins or loses his comeback run, I’m optimistic we’ll see big things from Big Invasion this year.

Bishops Bay

Triple Crown nominee Bishops Bay impressed in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds last month. The son of Uncle Mo pressed a solid pace before edging away from stablemate First Mission (see below) to win by three-quarters of a length.

This effort produced a flashy 96 Brisnet Speed rating, the highest number belonging to any horse in Sunday’s sixth race at Fair Grounds, an $80,000 allowance optional claimer (post time 4:45 p.m.). He’s bred top and bottom to stretch out in distance for high-percentage trainer Brad Cox, and jockey Florent Geroux (a 33 percent winner at Fair Grounds this meet) retains the mount. Bishops Bay looks ready to vie for victory in this one-mile and 70-yard contest.

First Defender

One of Bishops Bay’s key rivals in Sunday’s sixth race at Fair Grounds is fellow Triple Crown nominee First Defender. A beautifully bred son of Quality Road out of Love and Pride (both multiple Grade 1 winners), First Defender trounced his debut sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds by 5 1/4 lengths, then finished fourth with pace-pressing tactics in an $80,000 allowance optional claimer racing 1 1/16 miles over the same track.

First Defender was only beaten two lengths in the latter race, so we won’t judge his defeat too harshly. He’s bred to improve with maturity and thrive running long, so First Defender is eligible to move forward in his second route run for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

First Mission

First Mission put up a good fight against Bishops Bay when debuting in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Fair Grounds last month, rallying to finish second by three-quarters of a length. The sharp 94 Brisnet Speed rating First Mission posted indicates how well he ran in defeat.

First Mission has the pedigree to stretch out around two turns and should be tough to beat while tackling 1 1/16 miles in Saturday’s seventh race at Fair Grounds, a maiden special weight (post time 5:15 p.m.). I’m anticipating a winning performance.

Which horses do you have your eyes on?

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